The Extraordinary Courage of an Ordinary Man
Bernhard Rammerstorfer, author
Five years ago, Austrian Bernhard Rammerstorfer interrupted his university studies and wrote a book entitled, Unbroken Will: The Extraordinary Courage of an Ordinary Man (German edition: Nein statt Ja and Amen!). It is the sensitive portrayal of an extraordinary personality, Leopold Engleitner, a menial farm laborer, now 99 years old, whose experience during the time of the Holocaust, serves as a valuable lesson to others and reaches far beyond the borders of his native Austria. Bernhard Rammerstorfer recounts the story of a man who was cruelly victimized by the Nazis for his refusal to serve in the German Wehrmacht.
To say, "I won't serve in Hitler's army" was far more than just a statement: it was regarded as treason and carried the death penalty. Born on July 23, 1905 in Aigen-Voglhub, Austria, Leopold Engleitner grew up in Bad Ischl and observed the monarch on several occasions. In the early 1930s he began an intensive study of the Bible. He changed his religion and was baptized as one of Jehovah's Witnesses. As a result, he suffered from the religious intolerance of his neighbors and the authorities. After Hitler’s Anschluß of Austria in 1938, Engleitner refused to abandon his beliefs and serve in Hitler's army. This led to conflict with the National Socialist regime and he was arrested in Bad Ischl by the Gestapo and held in custody in Linz and Wels.
For four years he was held in the concentration camps of Buchenwald, Niederhagen and Ravensbrück. In Niederhagen he refused to sign a declaration renouncing his faith, even though doing so would have meant he would be a free man. Despite the appalling treatment he was subjected to in the concentration camps, his iron will could not be broken for he was determined to stand up for just principles, refusing to fight. In 1943 he was released from the concentration camp in Ravensbrück on condition that he spend the rest of his life performing forced labor in agriculture. After returning home he worked on a farm in St. Wolfgang. Three weeks before the end of the war, on April 17, 1945 he received his papers ordering him to join the German Wehrmacht. He refused to obey the call and fled into the mountains of the Salzkammergut. There he hid in an Alpine hut and a cave for weeks on end, hunted like an animal by the Nazis. They never found him.
The publication of this book is an extraordinary accomplishment. It shows the systematic way in which people who did not conform to the Nazis were victimized and that the Holocaust should be a universal concern. The book describes the life of a very unusual Holocaust victim and is at the same time an outstandingly well-documented evaluation of the whole Nazi era. In April 2004 the first edition of the English translation will be available in the United States. It is Mr. Engleitner's greatest wish to have the opportunity to travel to the United States in order to introduce his biography and to speak to the American people about his experiences.
Mr. Rammerstorfer sees the publication of this book in the English-speaking world as an opportunity to demonstrate that young Austrians are indeed interested in confronting their country's past and are willing to learn from it. "In the face of our historical responsibility, I am sparing no effort to document the crimes of the Nazi regime using the example of Leopold Engleitner's experiences. Mr. Engleitner's life story has taught me that there were also courageous Austrians, who at the time were citizens of the German Reich, yet opposed Hitler's atrocities and, at the risk of their own lives, refused to fight in his army. Leopold Engleitner's life proves that it was possible for an ordinary man to reject Hitler's regime of terror. Twentieth century history would surely have been written differently if more people had acted as courageously as this man did."
Federal President Thomas Klestil with Leopold Engleitner
Mr. Rammerstorfer has also produced a documentary film and a DVD on the life of Leopold Engleitner. These are available in German, English and Italian. The documentary film was awarded the ‘Golden Bear' at the 31st International Film Festival of Nations in 2003. In addition to the main story and five short films of special events, the DVD contains material for teaching pur- poses. The Austrian Ministry for Foreign Affairs as well as the Ministry for Education, Science and the Arts supported the publication of the book as well as the production of the DVD.
Unbroken Will: The Extraordinary Courage of an Ordinary Man. Bernhard Rammerstorfer, Grammaton Press, New Orleans, April 2004; US$ 22.95. For further information see: www.rammerstorfer.cc For video and DVD: firstname.lastname@example.org